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23 Sep 2016

Book Review: View from the O-Line

by Ben Muth

If you have been following the site recently you have probably seen a couple of posts pertaining to Howard Mudd and Richard Lister's new book The View From The O-Line: Football According to Offensive Linemen and an Uncommon Coach. We had a podcast with Coach Mudd two weeks ago, and we ran an excerpt of the book last week. This review is the last piece of content related to the book on this site.

I read View From The O-Line a couple of months ago and re-read it again this past week to get ready for this review. The basic framework of the book follows Coach Mudd throughout his playing and coaching career as the outline, and that is interspersed with a type of oral history from several notable NFL offensive linemen talking about when they were at similar points in their careers. For example, the book will talk about Mudd's rookie training camp and then there will be a bunch of stories from other linemen about their rookie training camps.

The group of guys the authors got to participate in the book is very impressive. Most have played fairly recently or are still playing (Alan Faneca, Nick Hardwick, Nick Mangold, and pretty much the entire Colts line from 2000 to 2010, to name a few) but there are some guys from the '90s (Tony Boselli, Frank Winters, Kyle Turley) and '80s (Jackie Slater, Randy Cross) as well. What I loved about getting guys from different eras is you can see how much the game has changed, and yet how little transformation there has been in some of the fundamental challenges of playing offensive line. The book does a great job of getting these guys to open up about some of those challenges and how they dealt with them to have success.

With any oral history, there are going to be some interviewees who are more interesting than others. I thought Hardwick, Mangold, Long, Ed White, Winters, Bill Polian, and Turley were the stars of the book; Randy Cross thought Randy Cross was the star. The layout of the book means some chapters are going to be more interesting to some readers depending on what they enjoy. But the book does a great job of touching on a lot of topics, so if you wanted to know something about playing offensive line in the NFL, there's a decent chance it's covered here. Some of my favorite topics covered are how these guys became linemen (as the book points out, no one reports for the first day of football practice and says "I want to play left guard"), transitioning from college to pro, developing chemistry with your linemates, the best ways to hold and not get caught, and the best linemen on either side of the ball they have seen or played against. Those topics are really just a tip of the iceberg.

As I said before, framing all of these topics is a timeline of Howard Mudd's career. For those of you that don't know, the best way to describe Coach Mudd is that he is the Dick LeBeau of offensive line coaches. He was a great player for the 49ers in the '60s (he made the All-Decade team) before becoming a long time NFL offensive line coach (most notably with those '80s Browns teams that had two thousand-yard rushers in the same year, and the Peyton Manning Colts in the 2000s). Just as LeBeau is often credited with inventing the zone blitz, Mudd is often credited with inventing or at least popularizing zone blocking. So, Mudd's career makes a fine skeleton for the book to cling to.

Again I thoroughly enjoyed the book for what it is. That's an entertaining collection of stories from some truly great players about what it's like to play offensive line. You get a feel for what type of personality it takes to play the position, some of what makes playing the position tough, what motivates the guys to work hard when they never get their names called, and learn some neat tricks of the trade. And on top of all that you hear some great stories about life in the NFL trenches.

What this book is not is a detailed X's and O's book. Coach Mudd touches on some principles of scheme and technique, but it's not a coaching book. It's more a collection of stories. And, unsurprisingly considering it's offensive linemen telling the stories, the book isn't a juicy tell-all that buries a ton of ex-teammates and opponents. The guys are mostly light-hearted and positive throughout, so don't expect too much locker room drama to come out of the book.

The biggest compliment I can give this book is that it made me feel like I was back in an offensive line meeting room, which is one of my favorite places I have ever been. Ask most media members and I bet they'll tell you offensive linemen are typically the best guys on the team. They're generally some of the smartest guys on the team and also some of the funniest. An offensive line meeting room is a where you laugh, where you learn about ball, and where you get to hang with some of the best dudes you'll ever meet. This book took me back to that meeting room, and I was happy to go there.

(Ed. Note: Regular Word of Muth columns will return next week.)

Posted by: Ben Muth on 23 Sep 2016

5 comments, Last at 23 Sep 2016, 2:14pm by theslothook


by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 09/23/2016 - 12:12pm

Will get book. Like oral history boosk. some of the gerreatest football bolos are the oral history ones. probably will make list of great nfl books in discussion forum here later in autumn for those interested in such a thing

offensive linemen book like this great idea. would also love a cornerback book as that is very fascinating positon . maybe most interesting after quarterback and pitcher.

by Will Allen :: Fri, 09/23/2016 - 12:19pm

You get a good coach, with a great sense of humor, breaking down film with a bunch of linemen, and you'll never laugh harder.

by nikshawdp :: Fri, 09/23/2016 - 12:25pm


I seem to recall that when the Cleveland Browns won their last championship, in 1964, Blanton Collier, their coach, introduced the concept of zone blocking.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Fri, 09/23/2016 - 1:22pm

Sounds like an easy win when someone asks me "What do you want for Christmas?" and I typically say "There's nothing I really want" !!

Ben - any theory why offensive lineman tend to be some of the smartest guys on the team?

by theslothook :: Fri, 09/23/2016 - 2:14pm

Howard Mudd is a good coach, but I always thought it was Alex Gibbs who made that zone blocking scheme sing in a way that few other teams could. Right up until Shanny pivoted toward a standard pass style with drafting of cutler, Denver was the gold standard of that zone blocking system. Gibbs even brought that to Atlanta with much success with Vick.